As we approach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day, reflecting on the year that was and questioning the country’s progress, artists like Brooklyn’s Alvin Armstrong want to look towards a hopeful future.
In a new art installation at BAM, Let Freedom Ring, opening Jan. 15, artists are encouraged to do just that, while exploring the legacy of Dr. King Jr.
Curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah, the show features a host of Brooklyn-based artists including Armstrong, Derrick Adams, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Lizania Cruz, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Hank Willis Thomas and Jasmine Wahi. The show is part of BAM’s 35th annual tribute to Dr. King.
Armstrong said his piece ‘We Don’t Die We Multiply’ was a response to what occurred last summer. “I was kind of thinking in terms of life being lost and how tragic that was, but how impactful that event was for so many that looked like that,” he said. “It was a moment of strength through a lot of pain.”
A number of pieces in the installation look at the impact of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and explore how America can move forward together in the wake of calls for justice and equity.
With the unveiling of the installation this week, Armstrong hopes people who view his piece come to their own conclusions about its meaning. The painting, which features an open chest, could be interpreted in several ways — tying into feelings of the unknown, openness and vulnerability.
“I hope people are drawn to the simplicity of the piece,” Armstrong said. “I prefer to leave a lot of meaning upto the interpretation of my work.”
But when it came to the work of Dr. King and how Americans could continue his legacy, Armstrong said the pandemic, coupled with Black trauma, opened many eyes to the problems the country faced and how it could be a moment to learn from mistakes.
“What was shown is the power and necessity for those outside of Black people’s trauma, to educate themselves around the deep-rooted racism in this country,” Armstrong said.
“The true unique occurrence of this past year is that the world was on pause and kind of forced them into what we go through on a daily basis. Through all the pain in this country, I am optimistic that if nothing else, there is an opportunity for growth.”
The Let Freedom Ring art installation will be unveiled on the BAM sign at the corner of Lafayette and Flatbush Avenues on Jan 15. On Jan. 18, BAM will be holding a tributary show honoring Dr. King — you can tune in here.